Brad DeLong has made a small industry of noting how the Bush administration lies by reflex (which is not at all the same thing as making it an art form). Sample titles:
- Is There Anything the Bush Administration Doesn't Lie About?
- Why Does the Bush Administration Lie All the Time?
- Why Are We Ruled by These Liars?
Nicholas D. Kristof has just woken up to this reality. But only partly — he blames the evil courtiers and partly exonerates the evil bosses duped by their henchmen. In Death by Optimism he recounts the following story:
Mr. Cheney has cited a Zogby International poll to back his claim that there is “very positive news” in Iraq. But the pollster, John Zogby, told me, “I was floored to see the spin that was put on it; some of the numbers were not my numbers at all.”
Mr. Cheney claimed that Iraqis chose the U.S. as their model for democracy “hands down,” and he and other officials say that a majority want American troops to stay at least another year. In fact, Mr. Zogby said, only 23 percent favor the U.S. democratic model, and 65 percent want the U.S. to leave in a year or less.
“I am not willing to say they lied,” Mr. Zogby said. “But they used a very tight process of selective screening, and when they didn't get what they wanted they were willing to manufacture some results… . There was almost nothing in that poll to give them comfort.”
Mr. Kristof is concerned by this. Not because a fish rots from the head, or because he thinks that this sort of behavior has been the G.W. Bush M.O. since at least his governorship, if not his career as a military deserter. No, Mr. Kristof thinks the Evil Courtiers are misleading that nice Mr. Bush and that clever Mr. Cheney, feeding them bad data and thus leading them down the path of self-delusion:
I wish administration officials were lying, because I would prefer hypocrisy to delusion — at least hypocritical officials make decisions with accurate information.
What evidence we have, however, suggests that the decision to invade Iraq did not depend on any data, true or false, but was a goal of the administration hawks when they took office. Bad data may have influenced the tactics, and the force levels, but there's nothing to suggest reality had much to do with the over-all strategy.
In any case, even if it were the case that the Evil Courtiers were lying to the Emperor, what creates the conditions in which this behavior is a successful strategy for the careerist courtier? Only a climate that punishes the truth.
So the scary thing is, Mr. Bush and his aides may not be lying when they look at Iraq and boast of a cheering population that a Western press sourly refuses to acknowledge. There's a precedent: Saddam Hussein.
Could anyone have imagined a year ago that Kristof or other establishment columnists would be comparing Bush to Saddam Hussein? Or that it wouldn't seem odd?